How to Wash and Iron Embroidery on Clothes and Accessories

Close-up of women dress
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Embroidered clothes, accessories, and home furnishings, whether done by hand or machine, feature elaborate stitches made by applying thread on a base fabric which can be cotton, wool, linen, silk, or a synthetic. The threads can be wool, cotton, metallic, silk, or acrylic. As with any embellished piece, care must be taken to preserve the work and time that has been invested.

First Things First: Test Embroidery Threads for Colorfastness

Almost all clothes and accessories now have care labels that tell you how to clean the item. But before you do anything with embroidered clothes, you should check the embroidery fibers for colorfastness to prevent dyes from running. Testing is simple. If there are large blocks of color, wet a piece of white cloth with cold water and gently rub it over each different thread color in your garment or accessory. If there are smaller areas, use a cotton swab. If there is any color transfer to the white cloth or swab, do not wash your garment or item at all because washing will result in discoloration and fading. Head to a professional dry cleaner instead.

If there is no color transfer and the base fabric is washable, you can hand wash or machine wash embroidered items on the gentle cycle following the care label guidelines.

Hand Wash or Home Dry Clean Embroidered Clothes and Accessories?

If your embroidered outfit or accessory is just looking dull, the first step in cleaning should be vacuuming. Cover the end of your vacuum hose with a piece of nylon stocking or light mesh. Starting on the front of the piece, vacuum slowly by keeping the nozzle just above the piece. If the embroidered item is a pillow with an insert, turn the embroidery cover inside out and repeat the process on the backside of the piece.This may be enough to brighten the item and give it the look you want.

If the garment or accessory is still dirty or has strong odors, you will need to clean it. If the piece is vintage, has great monetary, or sentimental value, consider consulting with a professional textile conservator. Your local art museum should be able to recommend one.

If your embroidered item is not heavily soiled and just needs some freshening, consider using a home dry cleaning kit. Be sure you’ve done the colorfast test and then follow the instructions with the kit. Your embroidered garment, pillow, or wall-hanging will be freshened and should need nothing more than a light pressing.

Hand Washing Embroidered Clothes and Accessories

First, pretreat visible stains following the specific recommendations for the type of stain. Allow the stain remover to work for at least ten minutes before hand washing. To hand wash embroidered clothes, fill a deep, laundry sink with cold water. It is best to use cool  water to prevent dye bleeding. Be certain that the sink is very clean and has no residue from cleaning agents that could cause damage to the piece. Use a gentle liquid detergent that will disperse in the water and leave less residue on the fabric. 

Place your garment in the water, being certain that the entire piece gets wet. Gently move the garment around in the water. Do not twist or wring the fabric. Allow the piece to remain in the water for about ten minutes. Next, drain the wash water and fill the sink again with fresh water. Repeat draining and refilling the sink until the water and piece are soap free.

If you are washing a hand-embroidered home accessory, take time to ensure that the entire piece is stable. Before you begin, measure the completed area. Remove the embroidered fabric from the pillow, footstool, or backing. If the edges have not been finished, you will need to tape or sew the edges to keep the piece from raveling.

Drying and Pressing Embroidered Clothes and Accessories

After hand washing embroidered pieces, gently squeeze out the excess water. Roll the piece in a towel and squeeze gently to remove as much moisture as possible. Place the item on a dry towel and allow to dry flat.

If your garment or item needs pressing, always iron on the wrong side. To prevent flattening the shape and design, put a thick, soft terry towel (preferably white to avoid color transfer) on the ironing board under the garment.

If you must, for some reason, iron on the right side of the embroidery; always use a pressing cloth between the iron and the embroidery. This will prevent tearing of threads, possible melting of threads which creates a shine on the fabric.

How to Salvage Dye Stained Embroidered Clothes and Accessories

Quite often embroidery threads are not colorfast and you will have dye bleeding. To remove the stains from color bleeding, follow these steps and have patience. It may take several attempts to remove the excess color.